Cheque Mate – The Indian Game of Strategy, Honour, and Pride

IMG_20170829_144833Cheque Mate” – two words I grew up hearing more often than not in my Indian household while keenly observing my father and brother play the game of strategy together. The honour and pride I would see on their faces while saying these words, would always make me feel this game was special. But probably like many other Indian girls growing up in the 80s and 90s, I was only a silent spectator of the game for years together. It was assumed, as it was for many other games or sports in India, that women do not like playing chess!

30 years later when I finally got a chance to say cheque mate while playing the game on a floor with pawns almost as high as my knees, I could not help but grin with delight. I always knew there was more to the game of strategy when I saw the design being replicated on streets and floors in different nooks of the world. Despite the controversy around its place of origin (India or China), I had no qualms about representing the game on the cover of my next Lit Tale – My Indian Games.

Most children can be taught to play chess when they are about 5 or 6 years old, but my 3 year old and I had a lot of fun pasting the white squares in alternate positions while creating the game. While running his little fingers up and down, over and over again, on the “alternate” white squares, he discovered that numbers do not necessarily follow the sequence of “1,2,3…”.

The design of the game can be used to explain many different number related concepts to kids in a fun way. My greatest joy though will come the day I am able to inspire young boys and girls to create and play this game of honour, strategy, and pride with their parents to preserve the culture of indoor games and enjoy some great bonding time together!

 

 

Big, Bigger, Biggest – A Tale of Spiders in Himalayan Holiday

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This long weekend, marking India’s 70th independence, we decided to take a nature break by traveling to the quaint town of Ramgarh, nested in the hills of Uttaranchal, to admire the beauty of very own country.  “When will go back to India? This is India, every vacation you take is not abroad.” I overheard a couple talking to their 5 year old son as soon as we reached our destination. I smiled, perhaps the child was as mesmerised by the beauty, purity, and quietness of our surroundings, where the great Indian poet, Rabindra Nath Tagore, often found inspiration for his poems.

As for my own son, I tried to show him a variety of birds & butterflies, flowers & fruits growing on trees during the nature walk we took while waiting for check-in. But it was a creepy crawly creature that caught my toddler’s fancy. “Mumma look,” he said pointing to the lamp post next to the bed when we walked into our cottage room. While he was fascinated by the creature with 8 long legs spread around in a circle, I almost screamed as I had never seen spider that big (the size of my hand) in my life.

From the next day onwards it was spiders everywhere, for my son and me. In the bathrooms, in the car doors, behind the food casseroles in the dining room. So one fine night, when he was fussing over dinner and I did not have access to our usual eating aids (books, everyday objects) as well as could not remember the famous nursery rhyme Incy Wincy Spider, I was left with no choice but to coin a tale of spiders.

Come I will tell you a tale of 3 spiders. Once there was a big spider, bigger spider, and biggest spider. Big spider was hiding in the knobs of food casseroles, bigger were hiding in the paper airplanes hanging from the roof of the dining hall, and biggest in the circle in the middle of the fan that you see revolving on this wall. And the story went on and on for next 20 mins, with the spiders played together, danced together, joining their big long hands.

At the end it not only turned out to be a story which my toddler wanted to hear over and and over again, but also the easiest way to explain him the concept of relative sizes – big, bigger, biggest.  While playing the traditional “Akkad Bakkad” game of counting fingers during the train ride back home, I was pleasantly surprised when he asked “Mumma, which is biggest?”

 

 

 

Time and TimePieces

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I have been fascinated with the concept of time and timepieces since I was a child. Partly because I grew up watching clocks and watches more than 50 times in a day thanks to my extremely time conscious father. But also because I loved gazing at the sun, stars, and moon and playing with shadows, all phenomena governed by time.
So when I stumbled upon the astronomical clock while walking on the streets in a recent trip to Prague, I was filled with awe and delight. Climbing up the tower to purchase a similar looking clock for home was more enjoyable than getting a bird’s eye view of the city.
The greatest joy though came when I realised that some of the most interesting facts linked to the animals are related to the concept of time while designing the next book on African Safari.
Here was my opportunity to redesign the clock finally! To help little ones understand that there are 24 hours in a day, though most clocks and watches they see around show 12 hours, the difference between day and night hours, and how different eating, drinking, and sleeping, patterns of animals are from us humans.

The City of Five Seasons – Unlearning the Learning

IMG_20170629_100039Loud thunder, dark skies, cool breeze, and rain drops lining up on rails. As I sit on my balcony chair, admiring the sight, sound, and feel of the first rain of the monsoon season, I experience the same inner happiness as I do every year reminiscing the various small joy moments – from making and sailing paper boats, jumping barefoot with closest friends, to sipping hot tea and relishing pakodas made by mother and having a drink and larger life conversations with my partner.

I grew up and spent more than 30 years of my life in Delhi, a city of five seasons, but would always think of seasons as primarily four (spring, summer, autumn, winter) as taught in my school text book. Thanks to the phrase “Four Seasons” coming to represent the urban fabric – from hotels to apartments, it became so deeply engrained in my sub conscious that I never really thought of questioning it even when I grew up. It was not until recently, when  I started designing the seasons book for next Lit-Creations on nature theme and started representing seasons page by page in the context of changes in trees, that I consciously realised that there are actually five seasons in my city- spring, summer, monsoon, autumn, and winter.

Learning they say is a life long process. While I continue to enjoy learning new things (from trees and flowers in my city to birds and animals of different countries) as I design for nurturing the joy of learning among little ones, greatest joy comes from unlearning the learning !

 

 

 

Orange – The Colour of Indian Summer

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Orange is a colour that usually one associates with fall colours that we do not have the privilege of viewing in India. But for me and my little one it has become the colour that brings joy to our hot Indian Summer as we rediscover our love for nature while admiring the beautiful orange flowers of Gulmohar trees lining up the streets and parks of our city and get inspired to redesign the nature book on our favourite tree.

Growing up in Delhi surviving the peak summer month of June has always been hard. The soaring temperatures make it next to impossible to step out during the day and even the evenings are more often than not spent in the pools or indoors. To avoid feeling of being trapped and generally depression that sets in the mood, most people have started escaping the city for longer periods of time.

But one fine day when my son brought home the bright orange flower that had fallen from a Gulmohar tree in the park, I could not help appreciating the beauty of Indian Summer. Suddenly all childhood memories of admiring the tree, which stood only 3 feet distance from my bedroom window, every summer when it starts blooming with bright orange flowers came flashing back. Looking at my son’s curiosity for the same tree, I was inspired to redesign the nature book on my favourite tree.

Despite the relentless heat, every evening we went to the park to count and collect some fallen leaves and flowers of the tree. We pasted a picture of the tree on the cover page of the book and adorned it with its flowers & leaves, sticks, and stones – all collected from the park. While the son enjoyed pasting alternate dals (orange and brown), sprinkling and blowing the orange saw dust while writing the name of the tree was as a lot more fun.

As for me I suddenly realised why I grew up to fall in love with the colour orange as it adorned the walls of my house and reflected in many of my personal belongings from shoes to handbags. For the first time, I also took notice that the orange flower of the Gulmohar has a white streaked petal in the middle, which made me appreciate its beauty a tad bit more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GP for Giant Panda , Golden Parakeet and Gurgaon Police – The Scrabble of Words

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It was Day 1 of son’s pre school summer holidays after coming back from vacation. I had not even finished unpacking and he started to pull curtains of the living room out of boredom. I had decided to not enroll him in any summer camp for reasons more than one. So I took him to my work drawer and made him select an animal and bird from the list of photographs from my latest Travel Diaries workshop. It was the Golden Parakeet and the Giant Panda that caught his fancy.

The initial intent was to only draw the bird and the animal and do some painting along with the flags of country they belong to. When I realised the names share the same alphabets G & P, I thought it was an excellent opportunity to also teach him some new alphabets. All the more because it aligned with my philosophy of not learning alphabets in a sequential order, the first two alphabets he learned were M for Mumma and E for Ekta.

Inspired by the designs of my books, we brought out some bindis and dals to craft the alphabets to help him further enhance his fine motors skills, but also ensure alphabet recognition.  It took him 5 days to complete them bit by bit, a true test of patience both for him and me. But at the end when he learnt to say new words that are not a part of his usual vocabulary – P for Parakeet, G for Giant and started recognising and pointing these letters in numbers plates of cars and sign boards, the effort seemed worth it. I was also happy to hear a new slogan GP GP as I was bored of listening to ABCDEFG…song over and over again.

The greatest joy though came when we coined the word guessing game starting with initials of our new slogan, GP for Grand Parents, GP for Gurgaon Police! And just like that he learned two new concepts, the city we live in and the folks who discipline our city. But I could not think of any other phrase that has GP as its initials. And suddenly all the memories of playing Scrabble as a child came flashing back.

The son is not even 3 yet, but I am very inspired to buy the game and play with him. It may help him further with alphabet recognition or learn new words and concepts, but more importantly, will be another joyful way of spending time together as it brings back cherished childhood memories.

 

 

One Big Circle, Two Small Circles – The Hunt for Mickey Mouse

When I excitedly walked into Hongkong’s Disneyland resort with my 2.5 year old son, little did I know that toughest parenting challenge awaited me. There were screens everywhere – in the lobby, restaurants, and in front of them, were a bunch of kids watching Disney cartoons without battling an eyelid. So far, I have been able to sustain screen/gadget free policy, but with free access to content that can excite every kid and a bunch of kids as an example, I could sense the danger of my son copying their behaviours.

mickey-lampWhen my son started following suit while we were waiting to check in at the lobby, I quickly looked around to see how to distract his attention. A series of circles on a lamp caught my eye. “Look Mickey Mouse” I told him pointing at the lamp and one big circle and two small circles-shapes that were familiar. He smiled as he started making association with the character he just saw on screen and on the lamp. I encouraged him to count the number of Mickey Mouse on the lamp to completely distract his attention from the screen. It was soon time to walk towards our room and as he excitedly pressed the button of the elevator, we found another Mickey Mouse. And thus the hunt for Mickey Mouse began.

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As we looked for Mickey Mouse, in everyday things (from shampoo bottles to food items), interior elements (from mirrors, carpets to curtains) and architectural features (from windows,roofs to ceilings), this became a really fun game to play for the next 2 days. It not only kept my son distracted from screens, but also improved his understanding of concept of big and small, enhanced his counting and, more importantly, visual perceptual skills.

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And finally, while taking a train to Disneyland park when he pointed to the Mickey Mouse on the handrail, I could not hold my delight as I was not paying attention anymore, but he seemed to be continuing to enjoy this game of visual perception.

White Flowers and Black Night

20161025_182646It was 6 pm and children were walking into the playground one by one after their afternoon naps, only to realise that the swings area where they typically play was pitch dark. Winter has not set in properly in this part of the world, but the days have definitely become shorter. Thus, the decision to abandon the main park and migrate to a smaller one engulfed by buildings shimmering with Diwali lights  was made as soon as we sighted our friends. After playing one or two rounds of ringa ringa roses, all children started flocking to their mommies as it was no fun playing in the dark.  As the boredom on their faces was quite evident, I looked around to find other ways to engage them. While hardly anything was visible in the dark, the striking contrast of white flowers strewn on the dark ground caught my attention and theirs.
20161025_182312.jpgI encouraged all children to start collecting and lining them on the polished granite planter surface. Running to different ends of the park and reuniting with flowers at the same spot suddenly became a fun game to play. A 4 year old boy was told to count all the flowers as and when different children kept bringing them to him. When the pile accumulated to more than 15 flowers, a 4 year old girl was concerned about guarding them to not let them spill on the ground. While a 2 year old boy started throwing them on the ground, a 2 year girl started picking them up and putting them back in place.

ma-1While fighting for the same flower, they were encouraged to say please to each other. When the small girl was not willing to put the flowers in the shared collection pile, the older girl convinced her to do so. At the end of it all, all children were encouraged to gift flowers to each others. Besides making new friends, an important lesson of sharing and caring was learnt through this simple act of group play. Most mothers also breathed a sigh of relief as they caught on their evening gossip with friends while their children were busy cleaning up the park.

Bejeweled Moon and Mother

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“Of all things visible, the highest is the heaven of the fixed stars,” Nicolaus Copernicus declared during the Renaissance period.

A recent picture of the bejeweled super moon captured by a friend brought back my fondest childhood memories. I have always enjoyed gazing at the moon since I was a little girl for reasons more than one. Every year my mother would adorn herself in beautiful clothes and jewelry on the occasion of a Hindu festival and break her fast by looking at the moon. While admiring my bejeweled mother making offerings to the beautiful moon, I also learnt to appreciate beauty.

On hot summer nights of long power cuts in the city of Delhi, my brother and I enjoyed gazing at the moon and stars from the charpai (woven bed) in our balcony as the mosquitoes or heat would not let us sleep. Our father would often take that opportunity to discuss the shape of moon and constellations and we would both take turns pointing to the north star, rejoicing if we got it right as it required a skill of alignment.

30 years later, when my two year old has become more aware of his surroundings, the long power cuts are gone and so is the opportunity to show him the stars also because of high air pollution levels. What still remains is the beautiful white round object in the sky that I revered since childhood. Every evening, on the way back from the park, we try to hunt for the moon. We climb mounds of our neighbourhood for the hunt and, at times, also take our friends along. Myra, woh dekho moon (look at the moon!), I can sense the same level of joy  and appreciation when my little one shouts out to show his friend. While he was quick to associate the shape of circle with moon, the concept of half and full was only understood because of the expeditions every evening.

To continue the joy of learning through nature,  we collect stones from the road to make the mother earth for our next book on the theme of nature while going to the park. And on the way back we continue to gaze at the beautiful white object in the sky which remains untouched. Mumma earth upar hai (earth is on top), he exclaims one fine day. No, I said. Earth upar hai, he asserted again. Hum necche se stones utha kar earth banate hain to earth neeche hai (we pick up stones from the bottom to make the earth so it is at the bottom). And just like that I was able to win the argument from the toddler and make him understand the concept of top and bottom as well.

 

Belan Boat for Baby Krishna

Janamashtmi, the birth day of Lord Krishna, brings back a vivid and happy childhood memory of spending hours creating arts scenes from his life in the front verandah (porch) of houses with neighbourhood friends across age groups. While this tradition has died over the years in India like many others which involve “real play” with other kids, I decided to indulge in an act of art creation with my son to relive the memory and keep him engaged on his day off from school. His existing love for vehicles, our recent trip to Kerela where he made merry on the boat, and, more importantly, depiction of boat in most art scenes of Krishna, made me choose the vehicle for our first act of joint creation.

IMG_20160825_103721 (1).jpgTo begin with, I encouraged him to empty out the craft items created out of everyday objects from a cardboard box and hunt for coloured matchsticks as they would fit well in the form and help him learn a new shape – rectangle. While he excitedly started handing the sticks one by one to me for pasting calling out yellow rectangle, orange rectangle, the joy lasted only for 10 sticks. Soon after he started climbing on the cardboard box to pull a nearby lamp, taking on the naughty child avatar of Krishna.

To distract him from his mischievous actIMG_20160825_103039 (1)s, I asked him to get some atta (round wheat ball) from the refrigerator. Though he loved the opportunity of rolling it on the chakla (wooden board) with belan (round implement used to make chapatis) and tracing the shape of letter b (for boat) with his black magnet, he found greater joy in picking the tiny black dals and sticking them one by one with his fingers in the b shaped cavity created by the object.

Surprised and delighted at seeing him enjoy getting his hands messy, I encouraged him to complete the boat creation by dipping the sticks in fevicol instead of handing them clean. To add a finishing touch, we pasted a big rectangle (ice cream stick) in the middle inspired by the cover image on Oliver Jeffer’s Lost and Found and his love for umbrella. When I checked the time at the end, it had been more than an hour – the longest he had been engaged in a particular activity, but perhaps it would have been more fun and lasted longer if there were other kids involved in the creation.

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